A doggone puzzle: dogs and daughters

Our dog, who is probably an adolescent in pooch years and prone to rebellious behavior, chewed a hole in a new and rather expensive carpet that my wife forced me to buy. Did the dog know? Was she reading my mind? Naturally, this wanton act of destruction caused major hysterics in our home.

The last time I saw this many fireworks was when I didn’t scrape the ice off my rear-view window and backed into my daughter’s new Volvo. Hey, it was an accident, and I don’t think I deserved all the nasty life-threatening comments that my wife and four daughters hurled at me.

On the other hand, or paw, the dog should have known better because she did it knowingly and willfully, which makes me think she may be a candidate for the Dog Whisperer reform school.

While considering my inadequacies as a dog trainer, I got to thinking rather ruefully about my inadequacies as a parent. You see, dogs and daughters puzzle me.

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to. You question how well you raised your kids and ask yourself, “Did I love too little? Did I love too much, if such a thing is possible? Did I spare the rod? Did I spoil the child?” Compared with my experiences as a youngster, I definitely spared the rod. It was no longer socially acceptable to hit, so I relied on  “time out” and similar techniques … with little success.

I also relied on the power of “reason.” I was a suburban Socrates, and my approach went something like this: “Girls, don’t you realize you shouldn’t do that? That’s not nice. What would the editorial writers of the New York Times say? Or Dr. Phil or the cast of Modern Family?”

Looking back, I often question my parenting style. Maybe I should have let my kids watch more TV instead of throwing out the cable box. Maybe I should have let them get body piercings. Maybe I shouldn’t have left copies of Star magazine lying around the house. Maybe I didn’t read enough parenting and canine behavior books. Maybe I should have put a muzzle on the dog and on the kids. So many maybes.

(Actually, I kind of like the hole in the carpet because it gives the house a lived-in look in a dog pound sort of way. Besides, when I used to smoke, there were cigarette burns everywhere, although that was before I met my wife.)

I guess every dad and every dog owner has days when he scratches his head and/or ears and asks, “Did I do anything right?” But then, he comes to his senses and concludes, “I shouldn’t beat myself up so much. The kids and the dog, along with the editorial writers of the New York Times, need to take some personal responsibility because I did the best I could with the tools I had.”

One of my daughters is a self-proclaimed expert on dog obedience and child-rearing even though she doesn’t have kids or a dog. Nevertheless, she’s always ready to critique my performance. I wish I attended the training classes she did so I could speak as authoritatively. Over the years, I’ve realized that parenting can be a humbling experience because you have to accept the things you cannot change. I was raised in an alcoholic home, so when I had my own family, I usually erred on the side of leniency and tried to put compassion before justice. One of the first things I learned is this: As a parent, you have to let a lot of water go under the bridge and pick your fights. Plus, you have to be big enough to endure some sassing back without flipping out. The dog, of course, is another issue. I just might solve that problem by buying her a personal carpet to chew on.

Maybe I didn’t do as good a job as I wanted to, but I probably did a better job than most. Does that make sense? I like to think that when it comes to parenting, I’m not the best, but I’m better than the rest — regardless of what my daughters, or the dog, think.

(I also solved my carpet problem. I’ll move the bookcase into the middle of the room to cover the hole.)